A Culture of Less

Posted on Mar 8, 2010 in Birth Stories, Birthing, Featured, Parenting, Simple Living | 16 comments

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Vintage green!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month we’re writing about being green — both how green we were when we were young and how green our kids are today. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Today is my birthday.

Thirty-two years ago my mom started having contractions while she was grocery shopping. She went about her day, took care of my older siblings, visited with my grandmother. After my dad got home from work, grandma left and around supper time, I was born at home.

Grandma called to say she’d thought of a name if the baby was a boy and dad informed her, “Too late; It’s a girl!” Grandma came back, made everyone dinner and they had leftover birthday cake from mom’s birthday on the 7th.

And so it is that I grew up thinking that homebirth was special, not dangerous. And so it is that twenty-seven years later, I had my first homebirth.

In some ways, I think that this is as vintage green as it gets. The oldest thing in the book: having babies the way our bodies were designed to, without a lot of wasted resources and unnecessary technology. There are plenty of instances where the resources and technology are useful, life-saving but increasingly, birth, like our culture as a whole, is characterized by excess and waste, with damaging consequences.

Homebirth is only one of the green values I picked up from my parents without even realising until I was older that it was green. My parents moved a lot while I was growing up, from the Yukon to the Canadian prairies to BC, but I think at heart they always think of themselves as Northerners. The term encompasses everyone up north and a Yukoner probably has more in common with an Alaskan than they would with anyone in the rest of Canada. A northerner is a crazy mélange of hippie and redneck: 4x4s and guns mixed with folk music and a back to the land mentality. My dad subscribed to Mother Earth News and the Canadian counterpart, Harrowsmith. They had good friends who lived year round in a Tipi. It was there in the North that they decided to have me at home.

At the time, in the 70s and 80s, it was just how we lived. A kind of quiet environmentalism that was born of Depression era great-grandparents, exalted by our Mennonite heritage (world-renowned cheapskates) and idealized by the Northerners and hippies. They were a product of their location but also of their generation. Now, I wouldn’t really classify my parents as environmentalists at all. But when I think back to the green actions of my parents, what comes to mind is this:

Before recycling, there was reduce and re-use.

My parents reduced and re-used like nobody’s business. We wore hand-me-downs. We never had new furniture; it was always used or antique. We didn’t buy fancy toys. My dad fixed things when they broke: from electronics to the car to the plumbing. My mom had a garden and she canned. My mouth waters when I think of her pickled beets and carrots, her canned pears and peaches. She sewed dresses for my sister and me for special occasions. We were a single car family and we drove used cars. My parents only bought one new vehicle ever: a 1974 International Scout. They still have it. We shared bedrooms. We lived within our means, never on credit. Even when my dad went back to University with three kids in tow.

They did not over-consume. They did not throw things away. They reduced. They re-used.

Tonight I look around my house and see the same lifestyle. Fifteen year old minivan, used or antique furniture, a house smaller than we might like, a garden. A willingness to build things, grow things, borrow things, make things or do without things rather than buy things. I hear myself saying, “Don’t stand with the fridge open,” “Turn off the water tap,” and “Turn out the lights,” and recognize my mother in my words. We are not the greenest family out there. We could do more, but right now, I’m proud of the legacy that I’m passing on to my kids.

My parents weren’t special. I mean, they are special, but this lifestyle—I don’t mean to make them out to be saints. They were just living. They made some choices based on beliefs and some on financial necessity. It wasn’t uncommon.

This lifestyle is increasingly uncommon nowadays and I am so grateful that my parents somehow managed to instill the less-is-more ideal into their parenting.

In this time of excess, I sometimes feel that the over-emphasis on the 3rd R, Recycling, actually allows for more consumption than there once was. We live in a more, more, more culture (listen to radio and tv jingles and see how many times you hear that word). Recycling lets us assuage our consciences when we buy something we don’t need. “Oh, it’s recyclable.”

It seems like maybe the triangle is out of whack—more Empire State building than equilateral triangle. Reduce Reuse Recycle are no longer in equal parts.

Maybe it’s time to recycle less? Putting something in the blue bin doesn’t keep it out of the landfill; it just delays it. Just as technology and medical intervention are useful in birth when used responsibly and appropriately, recycling has an important role to play, when used responsibly and appropriately. Between media, marketing and recycling, it’s too easy to keep wanting more. It seems high time that we shift the focus back to the first two Rs.

Reduce – use less, go without, don’t buy it.

Re-use – shop thrift stores or craigslist or fix the one you’ve already got.

Use less, buy less, eat less, drive less. Maybe it’s time to become a culture of less?

When I was a kid we didn’t eat organic, we didn’t use environmentally friendly cleaners and we didn’t think about where our trash went but we most definitely consumed less. Perhaps the big difference between now and then is that back in the ‘70s we thought about our consumption and now the focus is shifted to the waste we create?

In my municipality, the recycling truck comes every two weeks and the garbage is collected every week. I am proud to say that our family actually needs to have the frequency of pick-up reversed. But more than being proud of my recycling efforts, I am proud of our commitment to use less, to not waste energy or water, to buy less, to take less, to make-do, to reduce and to re-use.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Code Name: Mama and Hobo MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants.

(This list will be updated March 9 with all the carnival links.)


  1. I am being so convicted from this carnival to remember exactly the same thing — that reducing and reusing are more significant than recycling. It makes me want to reevaluate what I buy and what I want to buy. Uncomfortable, but good!

    Also, that is quite the excellent picture. Which one are you?
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last blog ..March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Vintage green =-.
    Twitter: Hobo_Mama

  2. It can be SUCH a struggle (at least, I personally struggle) living with Less in this nation of More, New & Better! This post is a wonderful reminder that if I’d only turn my eyes away from the flashing Buy Me signs I’d more often remember that I grew up with Less and it was fine. Better than fine. It was responsible. It was happy. It was green. It was what I hope to pass along to my own daughter.

    I love the statement: Recycle less!
    Reuse (or do without) really IS the way to go.

  3. I loved every single bit of this post. From the revelation that homebirth is green (why hadn’t I ever thought about that?!) to the realization that we need to focus more on reducing and reusing. Loved this, Alison. Thank you!
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last blog ..March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Vintage Green =-.
    Twitter: CodeNameMama

  4. Thought provoking post… it’s the way I am trying to live more and more but I often feel like I don’t do enough. We live in a culture where everything is available and even quality items are cheap. It’s hard not to overbuy but I am working at it. Staying out of Target helps.
    .-= Kate, aka guavalicious´s last blog ..Mom Did Know Best, About Diapers At Least =-.

  5. I heard/read a story on the news about a guy who saved all his trash for one year as an experiment to see how much he actually used. Interesting! I don’t even have enough space to save it!

    Maybe I’ll start a compost this year and see how that goes. 🙂

    I want to know, too – which one are you in the picture?
    .-= Molly´s last blog ..Getting Dirty =-.

  6. I love, love, love this post!

    I am 6 weeks away from my own third homebirth, I can’t imagine having a baby any other way. Homebirth is wonderful.

    I grew up in Alaska and my heart is still in the far America North West so your post twanged a heartstring as well.

    Thank you so much for such lovely thoughts! I am so inspired to focus on living on less – on purpose..

    .-= Earth Mama´s last blog ..We Walked Softly =-.

  7. Thanks everyone.

    I am the youngest one on the end. I might also point out about that picture that back then, in the summer, in the North, we kind of ran wild…Free Range Kids for sure.

  8. I LOVE your post! I will be experiencing my first home birth in 7 wks, give or take. I never thought of this perspective on it, but you are so right! If you think of all the electricity, supplies, and resources that add up the waste… I am so proud to be doing this!
    I also appreciate your reminder to us all about Reducing and Reusing. I think you are exactly right. The emphasis on recycling allows for continual over-consumption. I wish I could get some people I know to realize it’s not just about recycling its about using/buying less overall. Great job!

  9. Love it! The pic cracks me up. 🙂

    I’m allowed to say that since I’m in it.
    Twitter: melaniemcintosh

  10. Excellent post! We both talked this month about how reducing and rusing (and fixing, repairing, extending life of objects) is so much more important that recycling!

    How wonderful that you grew up thinking homebirth was safe and normal. I had never even heard of it. I was a teenager before I saw breastfeeding. I hope my daughter can grow up in a world that is more excepting of these things.
    .-= Paige´s last blog ..Ending Is Better Than Mending? =-.
    Twitter: babydust

  11. Bravo! You make such a good point about recycling. I’ve recently stopped buying items that come in plastic that can also come in a cardboard box (like laundry detergent) for this very reason. In fact, plastic is on its way out of our house in a big way these days.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..Nachos and Guacamole =-.
    Twitter: bfmom

  12. That is amazing. I have been dreaming and waiting for the day that my husband and I can experience our own home birth. We had our first child in a birthing center and realized then that everything that we needed that night was right in a kit and we knew then that we could have saved the trip and just stayed at home.

    Love that your parents had the less is more way of thinking. I hope to truly live like that one day. I am making baby steps toward decluttering our families unecessary junk that we have accumelated throughout the years.
    .-= Philippa´s last blog ..Natural Parenting Carnival: Vintage Green =-.
    Twitter: pchanner

  13. You’re bang-on about recycling. It has its place and it is important, but it is NOT a license to just keep on consuming.

    I think that our parents shared some common values. Mine never lived in the North, but they were hippies with parents who grew up on the prairies during the Depression, and it shaped their lifestyle, for sure. They just lived, and while I wouldn’t call them environmentalists their rejection of the mainstream and consumerism definitely shaped me.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..International Women’s Day, One Day Late =-.
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

  14. Excellent post! I hadn’t quite thought of homebirth in that way before. Hurray for homebirth!
    .-= NavelgazingBajan´s last blog ..HIV is a Women’s Issue =-.

  15. Very true. Recycling is good but not wasting is better- not using what you don’t need! It still takes energy and resources to process all that recycling, plus sorting it out.
    .-= the Grumbles´s last blog ..greener pastures =-.
    Twitter: thegrumbles

  16. I love that picture! We really need to do a better job about recycling, also buying less plastics.
    I am very happy that my girls are going to grow up, and know that homebirth is totally normal and healthy.
    .-= Darcel´s last blog ..Co-sleeping Essay Contest. =-.


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